Amidst discussions and debates raging across the country on topics such as nationalism and patriotism, students gathered at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) administration block Thursday to learn about Mahatma Gandhi’s view on the subject.
Contrasting Gandhi’s nationalistic views with those of leaders such as B R Ambedkar and Veer Savarkar, Tanika Sarkar, a historian of Modern history at JNU, elucidated how Gandhi’s ideas evolved over the course of time through “debate and understanding”.
When questioned about Rabindranath Tagore’s idea of nationalism, however, Sarkar said she feared his views may “invite a ban on all his works” in the current climate as he viewed nationalism as something meant “for conquerors and colonisers”, and that unless a “rigorous process of self-correction was undertaken, India would be a vicious nation”.
“Gandhi and Tagore had acrimonious arguments, but the two shared a lot of mutual respect,” she added. She also said she was not too sure if ‘Jana Gana Mana’ would always be the national anthem. “The RSS has for long been demanding to change the anthem to Vande Mataram”.
Explaining Gandhi’s view, Sarkar said, “Gandhi was a sincere devout Hindu… As a Hindu, he couldn’t deny caste constituted a part of dharma… After his visit to South Africa, his views on untouchability did change.. in the course of time he did say that if this kind of untouchability has a place in religion, he didn’t believe in such a religion”.
Talking about differences between Gandhi and Ambedkar, Sarkar said, “While Gandhi believed the varna dharma and untouchability to be different, Ambedkar said they were interconnected… Gandhi objected to an independent sphere of politics for Dalits, even as Ambedkar stressed the importance of Dalit leaders.
Sarkar also spoke about Savarkar’s idea of nationalism saying that while Savarkar just dismissed “caste inequality as a problem,” Gandhi struggled with the difficulty, never evading it.